Israel suspends decision to bar Al Jazeera journalist

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel on Wednesday backtracked from a decision to revoke the accreditation of an Al Jazeera journalist, saying he explained that comments he made last year did not amount to support for Palestinian violence.

Elias Karram, an Arab citizen of Israel, had told a Turkish-based TV station last year that his role as a journalist in Israeli-occupied territories where Palestinians seek statehood was inseparable from the “work of the resistance”.

In a statement, Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) said Karram clarified at a hearing on Aug. 21 that those comments did not constitute support or sympathy for violence.

The GPO said that, in response to his explanation and after consultations with security officials, it had frozen for six months the lifting of Karram’s accreditation and would review his news reports during that period.

A spokesman for Al Jazeera in Doha, the Qatari capital where the satellite channel is based, declined immediate comment but said a statement would be forthcoming.

Israel’s original decision, announced two weeks ago, was condemned by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The CPJ wrote to the GPO that it could not find “any justification for the harassment of Karram or evidence of Al Jazeera inciting violence”.

For many Israelis and for Palestinian militant groups that seek Israel’s destruction, the term “resistance” is synonymous with armed attacks. Palestinians who support a peace process with Israel leading to statehood say the term can refer to non-violent protests, such as hunger strikes by prisoners.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to work to close down Al Jazeera in Israel, accusing it of inciting violence.

Earlier this month, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said plans were afoot to revoke the media credentials of Al Jazeera’s journalists, close its Jerusalem bureau and remove the station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers.

Such a closure does not appear imminent, however, and an Israeli official said a legal process was still required to implement most of the proposed steps.

Al Jazeera has accused Israel of aligning itself with the four Arab states - Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain - that have severed diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar over alleged support for Islamist militant groups. Qatar denies backing violent Islamists.

Al Jazeera has also faced government censure in Egypt. In 2014, Egypt jailed three of the network’s staffers for seven years and closed its offices. Two staffers have been released but a third remains imprisoned.

Reporting by Miriam Berger; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich